Turn Off For Takeoff, Continued

Via Alex Knapp’s Twitter, an article in the New York Times about electronic devices in takeoffs and landings:

When EMT Labs put an Amazon Kindle through a number of tests, the company consistently found that this e-reader emitted less than 30 microvolts per meter when in use. That’s only 0.00003 of a volt.

“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.”

But one Kindle isn’t sending out a lot of electrical emissions. But surely a plane’s cabin with dozens or even hundreds will? That’s what both the F.A.A. and American Airlines asserted when I asked why pilots in the cockpit could use iPads, but the people back in coach could not. Yet that’s not right either.

“Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that. Five Kindles will not put off five times the energy that one Kindle would,” explained Kevin Bothmann, EMT Labs testing manager. “If it added up like that, people wouldn’t be able to go into offices, where there are dozens of computers, without wearing protective gear.”

Bill Ruck, principal engineer at CSI Telecommunications, a firm that does radio communications engineering, added: “Saying that 100 devices is 100 times worse is factually incorrect. Noise from these devices increases less and less as you add more.”

One of the things I don’t understand is that while navigation equipment is obviously most important for takeoff and landing, do they turn it off for the rest of the flight? Wouldn’t it be possible to gauge these things during the flight itself and determine what effect, if any, these things have on the navigation equipment? When I talk to people who support this, what they often say (other than “You’re a terrible narcissist for wanting to do something on a flight that I don’t care to”) is that you can’t even find out these things reliably without putting a flight in jeopardy. That all of the isolated tests don’t prove anything because we’re talking about millions and millions of flights. But we have these things on during millions and millions of flights anyway. We just don’t have them during the navigation-critical portions of the flights. Even if the navigation system isn’t being used, it seems to me (and I could be totally off-base here) we can put sensors or something on them during the rest of the flight and check for any abnormalities that occur.

If there truly is a safety hazard, I am fine with turning the devices off. I really am. Safety does matter, after all. But absent some demonstrable hazard, it really is a pain to turn everything off and then back on again for what can amount to a rather substantial portion of a short flight. The average flight home is a one-hour flight followed by a two-and-a-half hour flight. This leaves me with interruptions for what I would rather be doing, but not enough time to actually read a book before I can get to what I would actually want to be doing. The end result is switching back and forth between two novels (one electronic and one paperback), paperback novels never getting finished, magazines I don’t care to be reading but do so to fill the time, and so on. And the question increasingly has to be asked… for what?

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. 1. Sounds like something Mythbusters could do a show on.

    2. If you really can’t do without electronics for a few moments, you’re addicted.

  2. A confession: I put my Kindle on “standby” for takeoff, and put it in my carryon bag or the seat pocket so it’s out of view of the flight attendant. I don’t shut it down all the way. Flight attendants who can’t see the Kindle don’t ask questions about whether it’s shut down all the way.

    Burt Likko, your scofflaw ways are going to catch up to you one day, I know that’s what you’re saying right now. What can I say; I’m a rebel, streetwise and footloose, playing by my own rules.

  3. “I put my Kindle on “standby” for takeoff, and put it in my carryon bag or the seat pocket so it’s out of view of the flight attendant.”

    I do the same with my kids.

  4. Will, this is only an appropriate punishment for abandoning paper books (aka, books the way god intended them to be).

    My moralizing luddite tendencies aside, I appreciate kindle readers on airplanes–they’re less likely to try to talk to me. Kindle users should be encouraged to keep them on the whole time just to ensure they don’t try to get social with strangers.

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